Anyone who works with their hands or uses them for a sport or art knows the risks of over-use. Maybe it starts as tingling, numb fingers when you wake up. Maybe over time you find your hands are weak and your wrists are painful. Sometimes, these symptoms are diagnosed by a Western doctor as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
How can acupuncture support people with CTS? A recent study by Chung et al (2016) found that, when combined with standard CTS splints prescribed by Western doctors, acupuncture out-performed the splinting alone. The study randomly sorted patients who were already receiving splinting into a control group (splinting only) and a treatment group (acupuncture and splinting). The treatment group received electroacupuncture treatment in several points in their affected arms and wrists in thirteen treatments across seventeen weeks. When compared to their baseline measures of pain intensity, dexterity, and grip strength, at the end of the study the treatment group experienced a significantly greater improvement than the control group.
Interestingly, the treatment group was more compliant with splinting than the control group. Further research is needed to determine whether this contributed to the improved symptoms, and whether the acupuncture increased compliance. As I’ve written about before, acupuncture impacts a person through their body, mind, and spirit. It is not impossible to think that exposure to acupuncture could change the compliance rate with splinting.
If this is a repeatable effect, this is great news for many people suffering from CTS. When it is very severe, Western medicine often resorts to surgical interventions. While this is certainly very helpful and advisable when it is needed, the recovery is long, the technique is invasive, and the risks are ever present with surgery. If acupuncture can postpone the need for more dramatic interventions, isn't it worth a try? Or, at least, more research?
With its low track-record for side effects, acupuncture, at least, won't make things worse. (Side effects may include better sleep, positive outlook, feeling more yourself, and tiny bruises near needle sites)
Chung, V. C. H. et al, (2016). Electroacupuncture and splinting versus splinting alone to create
carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial. Chinese Medicine Acupuncture Journal, 188(12). doi:10.1503/cmaj.151003